Los Angeles, CA — Our Weekly recently sat down with the owners of the Creole Chef to discuss the recent armed robbery and attempted murder that occurred at their family restaurant.
Norm Theard: “As soon as we opened at Crenshaw Plaza, we were received with open arms by the community. We were featured in local papers, magazines and on the Internet. I remember Our Weekly did one of our first reviews. Since then, we were featured in USA Today, U.S. News & World Report, and L.A. Times. We appeared on ABC7, CBS2, KTLA5, FOX11, and CNN, and had many appearances on KJLH.”
Paul Theard: “When you walked in you felt that you were in someone’s home. It was common for us to hug and kiss thirty people in one day. The space we found was the biggest we could afford while risking our financial lives to pay for it. We felt the neighborhood was best suited for us because the African American community was more in tune with our type of food.”
On Tuesday March 3, two hooded assailants entered the restaurant and walked behind the counter. A large gun was placed at the head of the lead cook and the trigger was pulled. The gun misfired, so the cook was pistol whipped instead. He dropped to the floor with a wound to his head. The second assailant chased another cook out the back, while a third employee hid in the storeroom. The two girls at the counter were quarantined and forced to open the register. The assailants made off with all of the day’s cash.
Norm Theard: “I got there within a few minutes. I saw fire trucks, an ambulance and police, but no sign of security. I was instantly disgusted due to the history that we have had with the mall security. Even after this, they were nowhere in sight. About twenty minutes later I called them myself and said they needed to get on the scene. When they finally arrived, I recognized one of them as being the supervisor. I demanded that he stay until the situation came to its conclusion, in case the police got another call. I didn’t want the perpetrators to possibly return with no presence of law enforcement or security.
After the employees were questioned, I told them that we would be closed at least for the following day, and sent them home. We still had to wait for C.S.I. (crime scene investigation) to take fingerprints and collect materials from the scene. We were waiting an hour until the fingerprint expert arrived. About that time, security said they had to leave. And they left. When C.S.I. was done, two police officers kindly walked us to our vehicles.”
Lack of presence and communication by security in past events.
Only one week prior, the Taco Bell located 5 spaces down suffered an armed robbery. The Creole Chef was never notified of this by the mall. After canvassing multiple other mall businesses, it was found that they also received no notice. LAPD indicated that it’s likely that Creole Chef’s attackers are the same ones who hit Taco Bell.
Norm continued, “The mall continues to keep their tenants uninformed. Today (May 19, 2009) I spoke to a business owner at the mall who still hasn’t been notified of the Taco Bell or Creole Chef robberies. She actually heard about it from the original article in Our Weekly.”
This past November, the Creole Chef experienced a late night break-in. The robber (brightly lit from restaurant lighting) was shown on restaurant video as he spent nearly 20 minutes attempting to break into front and back doors with a crow bar. Finally, the front glass door was completely shattered. The alarm howled and LAPD responded with officers and a helicopter. Officers entered the premises with guns drawn, but the suspect was gone. Mall security was completely unaware. “I had to call them. They arrived about 40 minutes after LAPD did,” Norm says.
After this break-in, the Creole Chef was told by mall management that patrols were no longer being done at night, but that security could monitor from cameras. After the armed robbery, however, when LAPD asked security for access to mall’s cameras, they were told by the security supervisor that it is not possible to see anything at the Creole Chef space because it is too far.”
“Now imagine this: Three days after we were attacked, I spoke with the General Manager and Assistant GM of the mall on speakerphone, and asked if there had been any incidents on the mall property that I should be aware of. They told me no, except for a robbery in the parking lot in December. I was still unaware that Taco Bell was attacked. Since then I spoke to a gentleman working at Taco Bell and he felt security had probably been notified the day after because he noticed a significant increase in security. Had we known about their incident which occurred just seven days prior to ours, we could have acted on that information and done things differently.
For example, we could have done cash drops more often, and they would have gotten away with less. Our employees could have been more alert and may have seen suspicious behavior before the invasion. This is key because it’s likely the assailants did some surveillance before acting. Police supported this theory and also felt it was likely the suspects would return. Had they gotten less cash, perhaps they would stay away. If we had the vital information that the Taco Bell had been hit, we would have been able to adjust the way we do business.”
Community Responds to the loss of the Creole Chef
Thomas Derby – Arson Investigator for the L.A. Fire Department had this to say, “Well, the security there has been a joke, like Paul and Norm had been saying for the longest. There had been other robberies in the area, and this information was not shared with the Creole Chef. To make matters worse, the same characters who hit the Chef had apparently hit other places like Taco Bell in the area. Now with them moving out, it is a real loss to the community because it was like a little family establishment there. You go in, you feel the love–it was like you were a part of the family there. It’s a real loss.”
LAUSD School Board Member Marguerite Poindexter LaMotte said, “It is a tremendous blow when one of our highly regarded restaurants decides to close. Not only will we miss its authentic food and fantastic service, our community, already suffering from a limited selection of eating establishments, will feel an additional pinch.”
Paul Theard: “We had multiple notes left at the restaurant with people writing things like “we can’t believe you are gone,” and “please come back.” Just incredibly touching gestures and these things were particularly symbolic because they were written on the paper that the mall continually used to cover the message that we left on the inside of the glass door. The day after the robbery, we went in and placed a note to let people know what happened to us. It said that we had experienced an armed robbery, that our little family of employees was safe, and that we would be closed until further notice. It also said we were uncomfortable with opening immediately, because of the lack of security. It was the truth. “
Norm Theard: “The mall immediately asked us to take the note down. We refused, and they began a daily regimen of taping paper over the note so that people couldn’t read it. We had no way to communicate with our customers. They did this several times a day. We felt we had to put the message out there to our fellow businesses and customers because no one else did. Wells Fargo Branch Manager Joanie Dixon was just one of many nearby business people left in the dark.”
“We invested more time and money that we would like to talk about and we will be repaying that debt for many, many years to come. We were trying to invest in the community, and were representing a very small number of Black owned businesses within the mall’s overall property. We found our experiences there to be very distasteful with regard to the way management has presided over things, especially with the dismal lack of presence by security.”
Paul Theard: “We’ve now been locked out of the building and they continue to tear down any sign that we put up. Still, however, they are having no difficulty in continuing to bill us for rent.”
Paul and Norman Theard would like to hear from their loyal customers and supporters at: EmailCreoleChef@gmail.com.